President Reuven Rivlin will raise new and creative options as part of consultations with the newly elected Knesset factions, in the course of which he will decide whom to task with forming a government after last week’s election left neither Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud nor Benny Gantz’s Blue and White with a clear path to a majority coalition, a senior official at the president’s office said Sunday.
Speaking with Army Radio, President’s Residence director Harel Tubi said that Rivlin’s current round of discussions with the various parties was fundamentally different from his previous two times, since both in 2015 and earlier this year there were 61 MKs recommending a single candidate — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That meant there was no room for the president to make a judgment call.
This time, the discussions aren’t expected to yield a conclusive result and will likely “give the president authority and discretion” to make a judgment call, Tubi said.
The president has the power to appoint one of the 120 MKs elected on Tuesday as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated lawmaker must then cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members.
Tuesday’s election ended in an apparent deadlock, with Gantz’s Blue and White emerging as the larger party according to almost complete results, at 33 seats, and incumbent premier Netanyahu’s Likud winning 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs. The Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, which has 13 seats, hasn’t yet decided whether to recommend Gantz. If that happens, the Blue and White leader will have the support of at least 57 members of Knesset. Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, holds the balance of power between the blocs and has yet to announce whom, if anyone, it will recommend to Rivlin.
Rivlin will be “involved and will make every effort to prevent third elections. The law gives the president a very large room for judgment in such a case. He will know the facts and will demand clear answers. I think this time he will use the discussions to float other options, which the public hasn’t heard about.”
Asked what he meant by that, Tubi refused to elaborate, saying he didn’t want to put the cart before the horse.
“The situation over the last year in Israel includes security threats, economic challenges, and a government and Knesset that haven’t been functioning for a long time. All of that sharpens the need to form a government that will stabilize Israel,” Tubi said, hinting at a unity government that would include both Likud and Blue and White.
He denied reports of a possible deal floated by Likud to pardon Netanyahu of any corruption charges he may be convicted of, in exchange for the premier quitting politics.
Tubi said the justice system functioned independently from the President’s Residence and that the topic would only be discussed in the future if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit raises it. “We haven’t received any contact on that matter,” he said.
Once a candidate is chosen by the president to form the government, they have 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.
Netanyahu on Wednesday gathered together the leaders of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, and obtained their support for a so-called bloc of some 55 seats that has vowed to conduct its coalition talks as a unified faction — in the hopes of swaying Rivlin to choose Netanyahu for premier, or at least prevent Gantz from successfully forming a coalition if he is selected first.
Precedent would seem to suggest Rivlin is likely to select Gantz, but the new right-wing “bloc” has sparked speculation that Rivlin may see Netanyahu as better positioned to form a coalition.
The president has repeatedly promised to do “everything in my power” to prevent the country from heading to an unprecedented third election within a year.
There also remains a final and dramatic option at Rivlin’s disposal: If no candidate wins the 61 recommendations for an outright appointment, the president may decide to force a national unity government.
It is completely within Rivlin’s constitutional purview to offer both Gantz and Netanyahu an ultimatum: agree to a national unity government, dividing the premiership by rotation, or see your opponent get the first chance at premier.
Rivlin’s office said Thursday the president would receive each party’s recommendation for premier, and would then meet with the recommended candidates.
The process is expected to take two days, with Rivlin meeting the parties in descending order of their Knesset size. On Sunday evening, he is set to meet with representatives of Blue and White, Likud, the Joint List, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu. On Monday morning, he is set to meet with representatives from United Torah Judaism, Yamina, Labor-Gesher and Democratic Camp.
As was the case after April’s elections, “the meetings with the parties will be broadcast live on all platforms, to ensure transparency for Israeli citizens,” Rivlin’s office said.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.